Reflections on remote design research: The consultant’s perspective (Part 2)

Date: November, 2020
File under: Articles

This article concludes our series on the experience of transitioning from in-person to remotely moderated design research at U1. Our first article reflected on the experience of the consultancy as a whole, in the next article one of our consultants, Luella Paine, reflects on her individual experience. In this article, another of our consultants, John Eggleston, reflects on his experiences.

What have you learned?

That there is no loss of fidelity in the insights through conducting remote research. There are more variables such as participant’s devices and internet connection, but these variables contribute to a more authentic user experience. They certainly do not negatively impact the findings or the depth of the insights.

What has surprised you?

The effort which participants are willing to put into ‘making it work’. Participants have repeatedly proven to be tenacious in making sure the research session works smoothly despite using unfamiliar programs. Often participants need to install an unfamiliar program or browser extension to enable the research session to flow smoothly. I’ve found it surprising how often participants are happy to invest effort into making it work.

What has challenged you?

The few occasions when participants require additional support in using remote conferencing software. For example, if a participant has not installed a required program correctly (such as using a web viewer instead of a dedicated client) or is unfamiliar with a program and struggles to share their screen or access the chat functions.

These challenges should be resolved ahead of the research session and falls to the recruiter to effectively prepare the participant.

Other challenges include the environmental considerations occasionally affected the sessions such as dogs barking, children interrupting, noisy neighbours renovating their houses. However, these interruptions were normally fleeting and caused negligible impact on the flow of the sessions.

Generative research is better face to face, particularly when attempting to remotely replicate workshop style activities. Body language and the ability to stand up and move around actually plays a large role in enabling strangers to build on each other’s ideas. Previously a workshop with 8 participants could provide an opportunity for a range of paired and individual activities. Remotely, workshops are still effective generative approaches, but I’ve found they are more successful when limited to 4 participants.

What are the positives?

The increased convenience for participants improves convenience for researchers. There is less impact on the participant’s day, (no transport, parking, directions, or new devices) which means fewer instances of late participants or ‘no-shows’.

Additionally, it is much easier (and cheaper) to ‘cast a wider net’ and recruit participants from all over Australia and internationally. The alternative to remote research is the in-person interviews limited to either the Melbourne labs or requiring a researcher to travel broadly to access participants in other locations.

What are you looking forward to?

When the recruiters effectively prepare participants for remote sessions.

I suspect (maybe hope) that post COVID-19 vaccine there will be a balanced approach to remote and in person research as I think the benefits of remote research could be carried forward into the time when social distancing is no longer a requirement.

What will you take forward from the experience of the last 6 months?

I’ve developed positive habits for a work/life balance in the home. At the beginning of lockdown, I was struggling to isolate work life from home life and my focus and efficiency suffered causing work to bleed late into the evening.

I’ve become more familiar and more effective at providing remote troubleshooting support for a range of devices, programs, and operating systems.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Ugg boots and board shorts should become acceptable office attire once we return to the office.

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